GhostCatI’m trying desperately to be a here-in-the-moment-Dad as I’m building Lego with Archie but as much as I attempt to focus myself entirely on the pointy-edged plastic pieces and the joy on Archie’s face as the rocket ship takes shape I find myself falling into daydream. I’m in the process of redrafting a novel about a homeless boy who, after being taken in by an aging woman’s makeshift illegal orphanage, obsesses about his headless father while stealing pet dogs to make wolves, and even though there seems to be just the right amount of sex and violence and the perfect sprinkling of mental anguish and delusion and self-doubt, I think it needs some anchoring from a more reliable, less-malleable voice – a character who’s solid in his strangeness.

‘Dad,’ Archie says, ‘When we’re finished, I wanna fly in this Lego rocket ship.’

‘I do too, Arch,’ I say, as a stranger-danger experience Reservoir Mum told me about earlier resurfaces in my mind and begins to shift and mix with my redrafting preoccupation, my guilt at not being fully present with Archie, and some classic tunes from GOLD 104.3 FM, ‘but my feeling is that this particular rocket ship will be way too small.’

Archie rolls his eyes and we’re inside Melbourne’s Parliament Station, the scene of Reservoir Mum’s story. She’s sitting on a public bench and we’re sitting on another bench just to the left of her. Her voice comes back to me, narrating through the station’s communication system

I was at the train station and hardly anyone else was there and I was marking some papers when I smelt this odor of uncleanliness mixed with pot and mixed with something else I can’t quite settle on…

Hmm, I can smell it as well and I’m pretty sure that the mystery odour is coming from a pair of sweaty, 100% vinyl socks that have been worn so long they are now sharing capillaries with their owner’s feet.

and I look up to my left and there’s this brown-haired man leaning over the railing, about 25 or so, wearing brown pants and a brown jumper

‘Who’s that man with Mummy?’ Archie asks.

‘Browny,’ I tell him.

I get some immediate feelings about Browny. I get the feeling that he’s taking time out to let the world turn on its own for a while. I’m pretty sure he listens to 80s love songs a lot, ever since his girlfriend, Brenda – who has a learning disability and cankles – broke up with him by borrowing his BMX and never coming back. He’s rebelling, which is cool, but he thinks he’s living on the edge of life when he’s actually just living to the side a little, out of the way for the most part, waiting for someone to give him a reason to get back on board.

and then he looks at my paperwork and says, as if we’ve been mates forever, ‘You working, or studying?’ And I say ‘working’ and he says ‘studying?’ ‘No, working…’ I tell him again, and when he asks me what I do I say ‘I’m a physiotherapist’ and he leans a little closer and says, ‘Oh, like, exercise and shit?’

dangermouse‘Browny spends a lot of time making Danger Mouse figurines out of match-sticks,’ I tell Archie.

‘What?’ Archie laughs.

‘He also flattens lolly wrappers to pile neatly in an old Adidas shoebox and every day he counts them and thinks he has a thousand.’

‘A thousand?’ he says, laughing again.

‘Yep, but he really only has about a dozen because he likes making patterns on the wall with the wrappers by reflecting sunbeams from his lounge room window and then he forgets about them and falls asleep and they get pressed between the cushions in the couch.’

Archie thinks about this for a minute and says, ‘He should get the ones out of the couch.’

‘Yeah,’ I say, ‘but he never will.’

When I look across the train station I see that Reservoir Mum is shaking her head and redirecting my attention to the communication system. I whisper a sorry and listen.

…and when I try to ignore him and look down at the work I’m marking he looks up at one of the station’s security cameras and starts moving his head back and forth and then jumping to the left and right and then he just stops and sees me looking at him and says, ‘It’s not even tracking me…’

‘Why isn’t it tracking him, Dad?’ Archie asks.

‘I don’t know… maybe it can’t detect brown,’ I say, as I finish constructing the last of the Storm Troopers

…and then, even though I’m trying to convey that I really need to get these papers finished, he just carries on with the conversation and says ‘Man – yeah, I don’t really like exercise myself. When I was younger I could do the bridge for like two minutes sometimes… my abs were like armor’…

Archie and I watch Browny as he lifts his shirt, exposing a belly which is shocking in its bleached-white pastry appearance and covered in oily black hair winding around itself to create the illusion of a pony-tail hanging over his belly-button and tucking into the top of his gnarly brown pants. Unfortunately, his shirt stays semi-tucked and he carries on oblivious with an exposed mid-riff.

‘He reminds me a little of a bland Cindi Lauper,’ I say absentmindedly, when it suddenly occurs to me that Browny may have accidentally left himself permanently exposed on purpose. ‘You don’t think that Browny likes Mummy, do you Arch?’

Suddenly an elevator opens behind us releasing the sounds of Chris Isaaks’s Wicked Game. It echoes around the station and Archie clicks some Lego pieces together and says, ‘Browny really really likes Mummy.’


‘As in more than a friend?’ I say.

‘Yes,’ he says, as Browny drops to one knee and sings along.

It’s a beautiful song and Browny actually does a pretty good job of it but I’m wondering, apprehensively, if he might actually be carrying a deep seated hatred for all women because of the theft of his BMX and I’m considering the possibility of moving to a different suburb as the image of a basement full of Barbie Dolls with Brenda The Bitch scratched into their legless and armless torsos presents itself to me.

Archie says, ‘He could really work as a character for your novel…’ and my mind grows wings.

‘True!’ I say, ‘His past is an unknown, his present seems bland but there’s enough to suggest that something’s lurking just beneath the surface – it unsettles me – and his future holds all the promise of a hellish storm.’

Archie holds up two perfectly constructed wings for the rocket ship and says, ‘He killed a kitten once.’

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I remember that.’

‘It may even follow him now…’

‘A ghost cat…?

The music drowns out Reservoir Mum’s narration and although I do miss the running commentary I am also empowered by the ability to simply observe and interpret the situation in my own way. Browny’s clearly trying to big note himself but he’s doing poorly.

‘So you married?’ he says, stroking his ghost cat.


‘You’re a lucky girl…’ he says, before pausing and saying, ‘I mean, he’s a lucky man… do you like being married?’ and when Reservoir Mum tells him she does he asks, ‘Where did you go for your honeymoon?’

Mauritius,’ she says.

‘I don’t even know where that is… but I’ll probably go there,’ he says, reaching up to his shoulder to stroke the ghost cat again and inadvertently bulging his stomach to make his belly pony-tail even more hideously visible.

centaur‘Browny has a tail on his front…’ Archie says. ‘Dad! Maybe he’s half man half horse?’

‘A Centaur?’ I say. ‘That would be cool. I’ve never had a Centaur as a character before.’

‘Do it,’ he says, as he clicks the wings into place. ‘Our ship’s nearly finished.’

Reservoir Mum is focusing intently on her work again and when Browny moves closer to her, the clip-clop of his hooves startles her from her concentration and makes her jump but despite the anger I know she’s feeling, she can’t help but laugh when he says, ‘Would you like me to help you with that?’

‘I think I’ll be okay,’ she says, smiling.

‘Where are you going?’ he asks.

‘Reservoir,’ she says.

‘We’re definitely moving now Arch,’ I whisper.

‘And you?’ Reservoir Mum says.

Preston,’ Browny says, ‘I’m going to get some dope.’

‘Cool, well… I really have to get this done…’

‘That’s okay,’ he says, nonchalantly, before looking down the tracks and yelling, ‘God, where’s the fucking train… I feel like we’ve been here for an hour-and-a-half. Fuck!’

‘That’s an adult word,’ Archie says, as he holds up the finished Lego space ship.

‘Wow, that’s a beauty Arch!’ I say.

‘Awww Dad, I really want to fly in it.’

‘Okay,’ I say, as I watch Browny trot away from Reservoir Mum and make his way to another woman who’s holding a crying baby and trying not to give any indication that she has detected his approach.

‘Really?’ Archie says, ‘But you said it’s too small…’

‘Arch, we just made Browny into a ghost-cat-carrying-centaur… we can do anything,’ I say, as it occurs to me that even though Browny is just as messed up as all my other characters, and will not make the narration of my novel any more reliable, I really like him. He’s a keeper. ‘We’re going to need room for three though Arch. Browny’s coming with us.’

‘Cool!’ Archie says, hoping in front and taking charge of the control panel.

I hop in next to him and hold on as the rocket shudders, then lifts a little, and then edges its way towards Browny, who has just leaned in towards the woman with the crying baby to say, ‘Would you like some help with that?’

‘Browny!’ I yell, startling him up onto his hind legs. ‘You don’t just ask strangers if they want help with their babies, you bland bastard. Now, jump up mate. Come on… clippity-clop! You’re coming with us.’

‘Can my ghost cat come?’ he asks.

‘Bloody oath!’ I reply

As he jumps behind us, a legless Barbie with its eyes carved out falls from his pocket and he looks at us sheepishly.

‘Enough of that, Browny…’ I say, before correcting myself, ‘Or maybe more? You’re an evolving character. The possibilities are endless. Be prepared… you’re mine now.’

‘Okay,’ he says. ‘Can we stop in Preston? I really want to get some dope.’


Does this thing do light speed?’ he asks.

I lean in to Archie and say, with a smirk, ‘He wants to know if this thing does light speed…’

Archie smiles, flicks the appropriate switches, turns the right knobs and says, ‘Hold on Browny…’